Procrastination and Anticipatory Design

Futures Rambling #88

By Laurie Aznavoorian

Having written Futures Rambling for many years, I’ve become somewhat of an expert in the art of procrastination; although to be fair it’s not a recently developed trait. Early signs of having the tendency to put off till tomorrow what you could do today surfaced during the completion of my degree in architecture. But contrary to the misplaced belief of friends, who actually had the audacity to imply architecture students were natural procrastinators, most of us worked hard to perfect our techniques.

Prior to last week, I believed procrastination was a harmless, benign activity that hurt no one. Yes, it led to the occasional feelings of unease, but this one could argue, is part of the creative process. Now something very spooky has occurred that’s upset the balance of life. I’m uncharacteristically sick and my illness coincides with reading an article titled “Procrastination is Literally Killing You.” Imagine my alarm, particularly after I’d comfortably bought into a conspiracy theory started by other sick coworkers that attributed our plague to being poisoned by the annual company sponsored flu injection.

After reading the article on procrastination who in their right mind would not ask, am I sick because I have procrastinated in writing a blog post through the entire month of May? Coincidence, I think not. The article goes on to explain habitual delay can infect us both physically and professionally and the tendency to procrastinate is linked to headaches, digestive troubles, colds and flu! An alarming connection, backed by a study of 800 people in Canada and the US, goes as far as to associate procrastination with hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

The psychologists conducting that study suggests it’s not the occasional goofing off that most of us indulge in that does the real harm, but a condition called ‘trait procrastination’, which is a type of chronic procrastination that afflicts up to 20% of the population. Fortunately, it’s not the procrastination that kills you, but the trait of procrastinating that leads procrastinators to avoid taking care of themselves. They avoid doctors, eat poorly and rarely exercises which makes them vulnerable to illness.

Making matters worse for trait procrastinators is they not only respond to a problem by avoiding it, they exacerbate the issue by beating themselves up over their avoidance and being self-critical increases their stress loads. Holy smokes – when you combine this news with the now often repeated mantra ‘sitting is the new smoking’ is not painting a rosy picture for people who like to sit on the couch and push off what they’re supposed to be doing.

Thank goodness, in all of the gloom and doom, one bit of positive news surfaced and that is if the world continues to lumber along at the pace it’s headed, and it looks like it will, we’ll be in a position of having fewer things to procrastinate about. Every day the average person is burdened with approximately 35,000 decisions a day: ham and cheese or pastrami, Game of Thrones or House of Cards, third glass of Pinot or a headache.

Fortunately what the Internet giveth, it can now taketh away. The rise of the internet has made us even more aware of the many choices we have, but now technology promises to relieve us from the well-documented phenomenon of decision fatigue by taking over some choices for us. It is called Anticipatory Design and like Crime Prevention through Design it relies on ingenuity and creativity to solve the nasty problem of having to think. This is the next big break though in design and technology. We will see products, services and experiences made and executed on our behalf and it will all happen while we sit on the couch and procrastinate.

Oh No! It’s Big Brother! I say who cares the choices technology plans to alleviate are not one’s to care about, most of us would be happy to relinquish them for the reduced levels of stress promised. Besides the horse has bolted, if you travel by mass transit in Sydney you can program your Opal card to automatically top itself up, but in Melbourne an empty Myki results in a painful search for an appropriate convenience store to top it up because why would you be able to complete such a task on a tram, train or one of the many tram stations scattered about the city. Similarly Amazon and Netflix offer top picks based on past user preferences and that saves valuable television watching time.

Returning to the comparison to the favorite workplace yarn regarding sitting is the new smoking, that little ditty made employees much more aware of the dangers of prolonged sedentary time at work and their health and they also learned running around the block after work did little erase the physical damage of sitting in a desk all day. This awareness has led to change and as a result more workers are standing and moving.

Canadian researchers analyzing the benefits of standing and treadmill desks found that physiological health and psychological performance improved. The studies also indicated a lift in employee’s moods and greater health benefits including: heart rate up by 8 to 12 beats per minute, increase in HDL “good” cholesterol, weight loss and changes in body mass index. Attitudes have evolved and today no one is poking fun of the sit stand and treadmill desks anymore.

So I say bring it on, I am all in favor of having technology take ownership of the decisions I procrastinate about: doing my expense report, timesheet, laundry, renewing my passport and writing Futures Rambling. I for one look forward to the improvement this will bring to my health and free head space it will afford to ponder other more pressing issues in life such as whether I’m sick because I didn’t write a post in May or whether it was the fault of the flu injection. Maybe it was all of those people sneezing on the last Melbourne to Sydney flight I took?


Shapiro, Aaron; “The Next Big Thing in Design? Less Choice.”

fastcodesign; Procrastination is Literally Killing You; posted April 7, 2015

fastcodesign; Everthing Science Knows Right Now About Standing Desks; posted April 22, 2015

Noguchi, Yuki; “How a Bigger Lunch Table at Work Can Boost Productivity.” NPR Morning Edition, May 20, 2015


One thought on “Procrastination and Anticipatory Design”

  1. Another great post Laurie. I’m going to look into this some more……….. tomorrow X Zac

    Sent from my iPad


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